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over 4 years ago | Interviews


August is a tough month in any county cricket season. The start is far enough gone that tiredness can take hold, especially with the end not properly in sight. Add to that the strain of playing 15 different games all around the south of England, many going on late into the night, each requiring specific plans to be conjured up, memorised and executed, and with a format switch and back for the sake of a single game.

Middlesex Head Coach Stuart Law calls it “the wall in a marathon”, and for the Seaxes this season it’s proving hard to fully break through. Having come into the Blast campaign full of County Championship momentum, the sole red-ball game was over almost before it started, with Middlesex crashing to 75 all out in 21.4 overs of Ollie Robinson-inspired mayhem, and that, in turn, sucked the juice out of the T20 campaign, with the Seaxes’ first pair of consecutive losses coming straight after that defeat against Sussex.

Having impressed so greatly in the first two-thirds of the competition, Middlesex suddenly find themselves out of the knockout places, with only two wins from two guaranteeing progression. Law, however, remains confident, while not making any excuses for his side’s recent struggles.

“There is no reason why we can’t go on and qualify for the quarter-finals,” he says. “There is no reason to panic, it's just the decision making under pressure that we need to nail. We get obsessed with hitting one side of the wicket when trying to hit boundaries.

“Bowlers are awake to that so obviously only want you to hit one side. The other day at Lord’s we had a massive boundary one side of the pitch and we looked to hit sixes rather than getting the fielders off the rope. They were very deep on the rope instead of pushing ones or twos we decided to take them on and lost.”

The answer demonstrates an attention to detail and an ability to pinpoint what’s gone wrong that bodes well for Middlesex’s prospects under the rule of Law, and whatever transpires in the last two games, this season has already been a success compared to the last couple of campaigns. Before this year, 2016 was the last time the Seaxes had won consecutive Blast games, and in 2018 they lost 12 and won just twice as they finished at the foot of the table.

“We've bought in a positive mindset and we want to bowl every team out and keep the scoreboard ticking over regardless of the situation,” says Law. “It's common sense: specialist batters in specialist positions, specialist bowlers bowling at certain times.”

If Middlesex do qualify for the knockouts, it will be in no small part due to the efforts of club captain Dawid Malan, who has had a stellar season across formats. He sits inside the top five run-scorers in both Division Two of the Championship and the T20 Blast. His four centuries and Championship average of 56.68 have led many to suggest he should be called up for the Ashes, while his T20 numbers – an average of 47, strike-rate of 147 and high score of 117 – are more impressive still. “Dawid's batting has been outstanding,” says Law. “When he is batting it doesn't matter whether you're captain or not. You can just bat.”

As a skipper, Malan is improving, though in Law’s eyes there is still progress to be made. “Dawid is still learning,” says Law. “He has to work out what kind of captain he wants to be. You're not born with captaincy and it depends on your character. Captaincy adds pressure and making spur of the moment decisions as a young captain is very difficult. He is a tough man and he expects very high standards and that can only bring out the best in players when the time is right.”

The improvement has been less clear-cut in the Championship, where Middlesex have won just over a quarter of their games so far, a significant reduction on last year’s efforts, in which they won seven from 14. Law is at least up front about the deficiencies.

“I don't think we were anywhere near up to speed,” he says. “Maybe we thought Championship cricket in Division Two would be a bit easier than we expected. Teams we have come up against have really wanted to beat us. Everyone wants to beat everyone and we probably have taken it a little bit for granted. I've heard what a great four-day side we were but we still have to go out there and play.”

Still, if some of those problems sound familiar to Middlesex fans over the last couple of years, it’s of comfort that, thanks to the fact that three teams will get promoted from the second tier and an unusually close league, the Seaxes remain in with a chance of earning a spot in Division One next season.

“We have a tough ask but there is no reason why we can't do it,” says Law. We probably haven't clicked as a team all together as much as we’d have liked, but if we have three seriously good games of cricket we can still chase those promotion spots. The congestion at the top of the table means if you win two you'll climb the table.”

Things could look very different in a month’s time, when Middlesex could well have secured a place in the top tier and had a proper run in the T20 Blast, or have achieved neither aim. What’s clear however is that the Seaxes are just at the beginning of their overall project, and that, in Law, they have a coach who is unafraid to call out flaws in his side or indeed himself, and prepared to put in the time it takes to fix them.

“When I came in I knew it wasn't going to be an overnight turnaround. New coach, new ideas, new staff. First of all, we targeted to improve in the 50-over competition, which I think we did really well. We changed our mind set, played more aggressively and chased the game rather than sit back and defend.

“We made the quarter-final for the first time in a long time which was a great effort. In Championship cricket you need a lot of things going for you and the weather not to hinder you, which it probably has done. We’ve lost three-and-a-half days to rain if not more, which was disappointing.

“Overall I think we are making steps in the right direction. I think we're doing okay. I wouldn't give myself a super high mark but we're going better than we were in the last couple of years.”

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